How delicate our experience
Like the petals of a flower.
When storms ensue,
Uprooting our beloveds…
Ripped wide open.
When we lose the Light of our Lives…
Why does the sun still rise?
(From the book, “May I Only Leave Rose Petals” by J.S. Drake)
It started just like any ordinary school morning, as my phone alarm yanked me out of my deep slumber and into the still darkness of the room. Groaning, I slowly willed myself to crawl out of bed and take a shower to start my day. There was no way to know this would be the day my world would crash down on top of me.
At about 7: 30 a.m., I heard the sirens. As my sister and I hopped into my car, we prayed to protect whoever was in trouble. “God, please be with whoever may be hurt,” I whispered. And with that small prayer, I turned the key and drove the short distance to our small, rural school.
When I walked into the school, I overheard a junior talking about my best friend Jesi being involved in a car accident. Worry and anxiety welled up inside me. Jesi and I had been friends since the beginning of fifth grade, and she was one of the most important people in my life. To calm the panic steadily rising within me, I practically ran to find my sister—but before we could talk, the bell rang for the first period.
In French class, I couldn’t concentrate, overcome with fear that Jesi had been hurt. It never occurred to me that she might have died. That didn’t seem possible. My plan was to rush to the hospital and give Jes huge hugs and kisses, and then chew her out for scaring me. She’d smile and say, “You, silly goose, what are you talking about?” About halfway through first period, my rising anxiety became too much to bear. I asked my French teacher for permission to call my mom, and soon, Mom was on her way to pick up my sister and me.
The brief car ride home, with my brother in the front seat and my sister and me in the back, felt eerily quiet. The sensation was like being in a slow-motion movie scene, watching myself. I was genuinely surprised to see we were heading toward our house instead of the hospital. What in the world is going on? Why aren’t we going to see Jes?
“Mom, what are we doing?” I finally managed to croak out.
“Let’s just go inside,” she said.
By this point, I knew something was terribly wrong, and my heart sank to my knees as I fought against letting the terror overwhelm me. I remained calm. Inside the house, my sis and I stood close to one another and waited for my mom to say something, anything…
She looked overcome with anguish and quietly said, “Jesi died in the—”
Unable and unwilling to believe what I was hearing, I began to shout, trying to shut out the harsh reality of my mom’s words, which seemed heavy enough to crush me.
“What? No, you’re lying, Mom!”
“No, honey, Jesi didn’t make it—”
“NO! NO! NO!”
The primordial gush of emotion that erupted from the depths of my shattered heart and soul could no longer be contained.
Those screams couldn’t be mine, could they? But they were. I howled in anguish and agony, sinking to the floor. My mom wrapped both my sister and me in a fierce embrace, trying to hold our world together, but it was too late. How could a mother kiss or hug away this amount of pain?
I seemed to be standing outside of myself, looking down on this heartbreaking turmoil while also trying desperately not to drown. How could this happen? And why? Why Jesi? Why the vibrant, young, beautiful, and funny redhead who was my best friend? Why the girl who had brought so much love and kindness to the world?
“God, not Jes, please not Jes,” I wailed for what seemed like forever, while in the fierce embrace of my mom and sister. I felt like there was no longer a reason to live. Time seemed to be both speeding and crawling by, at the same time.
My mom asked us if we wanted to be back at school, where everyone else was receiving the news. We did. Seeing everyone crying in the halls, hugging and supporting one another, brought my tears back. Jesi’s family was there, in shock, consumed by grief and numbness. Nothing I could do would console them.
Returning home later that day, my once-cheery house seemed dark and bleak.
Today, thirteen years later, Jesi will forever be sixteen. Where would we be today, if she were still alive? Who would she be? Who would I be? I’ll never know. But what I can say is this: Jesi was exceptionally kind. She had been the first to reach out to me in the middle of fourth grade, when I was reeling from my parents’ divorce. More significantly, when I’d felt bullied and shunned, she had been my affirming love and light. She’d made me feel that I was a worthy person to know.
Her loss set in motion a period of illusion, despair, and many dark nights of the soul for me. I’d often wonder, “Why is the sun shining and the sky so blue? Shouldn’t the whole world be mourning the loss of this beautiful soul?”
I came to realize that these circumstances of loss make us who we are.
Now I feel grateful for the gift of Jesi’s deep friendship, which taught me the power of connecting with others from the heart and helped me develop the strength to share my life experiences.
The truth is, Jesi is still here with me, influencing and blessing my life. Her message to the world was simple: Be kind to others. My mission now is to choose to be kind, every chance I get—especially when others are not. That’s the legacy she left. All the lives she touched through her compassion still ripple out and continue to touch more lives, in a never-ending blessing and testimony to the love she embodied.
When we lose the light of our lives, why does the sun still rise? I have the answer now. It’s because, no matter what, we are all connected. The sun coming up is a reminder that—even in the depths of our pain, when we feel surrounded by darkness—we are a part of a community.
The sun, our collective light, shines in our darkest hour and reminds us of the light that we are.
–My Story that is shared in the book, “Chaos to Clarity”
— Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change by Rev. Patricia Cagganello, Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos